Friday, August 31, 2012

The Wright & Dickey Contract Conundrum

If they haven't already mapped out their plan regarding the futures of David Wright and R.A. Dickey, Sandy Alderson and Co. will have to quickly do so and spring into action once the 2013 season concludes.  Although the Mets hold contract options for both Dickey and Wright for next year, their long-term fates need to be decided between October and the end of March.  Simply exercising their options and letting the matter sit can't be the plan.  Here's why:

Both before and during this season, Wright and Dickey have been candid when asked whether or not they wanted to remain with the Mets.  At this point, it almost seems as if their answers are carbon copies.  They have emphatically stated that they want to remain with the Mets and be part of the long-term solution.  However, they've also indicated their strong desire to win and a need to know what the Mets' direction is before making a decision.  The pressing issue here, is the fact that both are unlikely to negotiate in-season next year.  Meaning, if the Mets are to extend them it has to be done this fall/winter.  I attended last Sunday's season ticket holder Q & A at Citi Field, and Sandy Alderson was quick and to the point when asked about the futures of Wright and Dickey.  He dodged tons of questions, but not that one.  Without hesitation, he noted that although the Mets hold options on both players, he's not comfortable going into next season without both of them locked up long-term.  He said that he "fully expects" Wright and Dickey to be Mets not only next year but for years to come.  I believe Alderson wants them to be here, and I believe the Mets have the payroll flexibility to make it happen.  A potential hurdle, though, could be convincing both Wright and Dickey to stay.

In order to get the Wright and Dickey contract extensions taken care of, Alderson needs to be quick and decisive.  He has to approach and present them with immediate offers.  Moreover, those offers have to be accopmanied by an explanation of the Mets' long-term motives.  What is Alderson's grand plan?  What will the payroll look like going forward?  How does Alderson plan to fill the roster inadequacies alongside Wright, Dickey, and the other holdovers?  These have to be contract offers wrapped up in a concise presentation of the type of organization these men will be playing for after those contracts are potentially signed. 

Just how does Sandy Alderson show Wright and Dickey that they should stay?  I doubt this year's final win total will matter much, but I'm sure it wouldn't hurt for the team to finish strong.  Alderson recently made a series of comments to Mike Francesa on WFAN, intimating that "evaluation time" is over.  He stressed the need for serious roster turnover, which will likely be accomplished through trades.  Alderson has to fill Wright and Dickey in on how he plans to improve the club, while stating that if 2013 isn't a year where the Mets are likely to contend, 2014 certainly will be.  If needed, ownership should step in and assure both players of the financial health of the franchise going forward. 

From 2011 to 2012, the Mets' payroll was slashed from $143 million to $95 million.  It was an enormous year to year reduction.  The drop was necessary because of the still ongoing Madoff litigation, and due to monetary losses the team had sustained.  Now that the litigation is over and things have calmed down, the payroll for 2013 is expected to remain about the same as it was in 2012, or potentially be slightly higher.  After next season, the Mets will have roughly $40 million coming off the books when Johan Santana and Jason Bay's contracts expire.  Even if you factor in potential raises to Wright and Dickey, the team should have a significant chunk of money to spend in free agency after 2013. 

After he was acquired via trade in1983, Keith Hernandez was counting the days until he'd be able to depart via free agency.  Once he saw what was on the horizon, though, his intentions quickly changed.  The rest is history.  Much like in 1983, there are lots of reasons to be optimistic about the future of the Mets.  Yes, the Mets will likely be coming off four consecutive losing seasons.  Still, strong teams are built with strong starting pitching.  And in Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee, Matt Harvey, Collin McHugh, and soon Zack Wheeler, the Mets will have five young, cost effective, talented contributors - two of which have legitimate top of the rotation potential.  If R.A. Dickey is here, it makes the group that much stronger.  The state of the bullpen and offense is far more unsettled than that of the rotation, but the situation is far from dire.  Ruben Tejada, Ike Davis, and Daniel Murphy can all be contributors to a contending club.  It's clear, though, that the outfield has to be re-made.  The bullpen has a few solid contributors in Bobby Parnell and Josh Edgin, but it will have to be overhauled as well.

To me, Sandy Alderson has three options when it comes to handling the futures of David Wright and R.A. Dickey.  Option one is signing both long-term this winter.  Option two, if both reject contract extensions, is to trade both this winter.  Option three, would be to trade them during the 2013 season (the least appealing option).  Those are the only three options, due to the fact that the Mets can't afford to let Wright and Dickey walk for nothing.  And if they hit free agency, that's exactly what will happen.  However, if Fred Wilpon allows Sandy Alderson to do his job, option one should be the only scenario on the table for the Mets.

I'm of the opinion that the Mets' fanbase has been through such hell over the last four years, that letting Wright and Dickey go would be the last straw for many.  If Alderson decided that the right move was to deal both in an effort to acquire a host of young impact players, I suppose I'd be able to swallow it.  Still, I simply don't believe that would be the right course of action.  Wright will turn 30 in December, and is the face of the franchise.  He's expressed over and over his desire to stay.  His love of the team and the fans is unrivaled, and his work ethic is impeccable.  If the Mets sign him to a 6 year extension with a 7th year option, those last few years may turn out to be less than stellar.  However, there's no reason to expect a downturn from Wright any time soon.  As far as Dickey is concerned, he's not only become one of the best pitchers in the league, he's become a fan favorite because of the man he is off the field.  Like Wright, there's no reason to anticipate a precipitous decline from Dickey.  He'll be 38 next season, and while he throws a harder knuckle ball than most, his arm has been through much less stress than pretty much every other pitcher his age.  Both men should be part of the long-term solution.  They should be built around, not pawned off for other pieces who may turn out to be something of worth.

It makes zero sense for David Wright to stay with the Mets from 2004 to 2013, riding the highs and lows (but mostly lows) only to depart prior to the 2014 season - when the Mets should have both the talent and spending ability to contend.  As far as Dickey is concerned, the type of contract offer the Mets would need to present him with would likely be less than half of what they would have to guarantee to Wright (both in years and dollars).  These deals must get done. 

The Mets need to sign these two men long-term to bolster the future quality of the product on the field, and as a sign of stability and seriousness to their fanbase.  They need to do it to show that the worst is over, and that the team is again ready to rise from the ashes. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

I Yearn for Citi to Shake like Shea

Whenever my Father comes with my friends and I to Mets games, he opts to park in a $5 lot that's a 10 minute walk to the ballpark along Roosevelt Avenue.  He'll park there, meet us in McFadden's before the game, and we'll walk back with him after the game is over.  As we were walking along Roosevelt Avenue last Saturday night, after the Mets had been trounced by the Braves, I remembered that I had taken that same walk after the game on October 19th, 2006.  That night was of course Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS (seen in the picture above).  A night where I went straight from work to the ballpark, and sat in the Upper Deck between third base and left field while I waited for the game to start. 

As the stadium began to fill, a palpable buzz rose up.  In the moments before the game began, the scene had turned into a frenzy, a kind of madness even.  It was incredible.  It was deafening. People were screaming, jumping up and down, and waving towels (although I don't like the use of rally towels, preferring to let my hands generate noise, it was quite a sight on October 19th, 2006), all in anticipation of what we hoped would be the Mets winning the National League Pennant.  We all know how that game turned out.  Endy Chavez made the greatest catch I've ever seen, and I'm pretty sure I blacked out during the insanity that ensued afterwards - the hugging of strangers, screams of amazemenet, and feeling of the Upper Deck shaking - so badly, in fact, that my Father nearly left the section because he thought it was going to collapse.  I told him at the time that if it did, I'd go down with it.  The Upper Deck didn't collapse, Reyes' rope in the 9th didn't fall in, and Carlos Beltran was felled by a pitch no one could've hit.  After two more years of contention but ultimate disappointment, Shea Stadium met the wrecking ball.  And since then, save for the last out of Johan Santana's no hitter, Citi Field has felt empy - even when it's full.

Now, it's important to point out that I'm comparing extremes.  There were times at Shea during the summer of 2006 when I would be aggravated at the lack of fan noise.  However, I had a Saturday plan back then, and the lack of noise could be partly attributed to the many families who were in attendance.  Still, even though Shea Stadium was lacking in amenities and devoid of light in the concourses, it was a place where Mets fans felt united.  It was a place where you couldn't hear yourself think during big moments, when the crowd would engulf you. 

I love Citi Field itself.  I love how it looks, the wide open concourses, the seats being closer to the field, and much more.  However, I hate how it sounds.  The feeling of detachment between the fans and the game is disturbing.  I understand that Citi Field has been the home of a non-contending ballclub during the second half of each season since it opened.  However, that doesn't excuse fans from making absolutely no noise during the first haf of each of those seasons.  It doesn't excuse the fact that when I clap with two strikes, I feel like I'm doing something wrong.  It doesn't excuse the fact that when I stand up during a big moment, people around me look at me like I'm insane - their seering eyes demanding me to sit down. 

I suppose the indifference and silence at Citi Field is due to a multitude of reasons: People are content to hang out instead of focusing on the game, to walk around and BS with eachother.  Some are unhappy with ownership, and all are unhappy with how the last four seasons have spiraled downhill after the All-Star break.  Still, that doesn't make my feeling of detatchment when attending a Mets game acceptable.
I miss Shea Stadium.  I miss the Mets playing meaningful games in September and October.  Most of all, I miss the feeling of unity that used to wash over me every time I walked into Shea - whether it was as a 9 year old who watched Sid Fernandez from the Mezzanine in September of 1993, or as a 22 year old who was there for most of the Playoff games during October of 2006.  I miss being able to clap without feeling odd, or being able to stand without those around me wondering why.

No one knows when the Mets will play their next meaningful September and October games.  There could be a miracle this year, it could happen next year, or the year after.  I just hope that when those games roll around, it won't be noiseless indifference that fills Citi Field.  I hope that those in attendance realize the tradition that its fans are supposed to be upholding - the tradition of being a raucous, supportive home crowd.  A crowd that hangs on every pitch, and fills the ballpark with a palpable buzz. 

While I was taking that walk along Roosevelt avenue after the game last Saturday night, I realized something else.  I had more of an empty feeling that night than I did when I was taking the same walk in the rain sometime around 11:30 PM on October 19th, 2006,  minutes after the Mets' season had ended.  Back then I had been a part of an amazing experience, even though it ended in agony.  Last Saturday, I had simply been one of 25,000 people in an emotionless ballpark, experiencing nothing special at all.  I yearn for that to change, for Citi to erupt like Shea.  Whenever it is that the Mets finally break through, the fans of this team have to realize that it's us who have the power to do that.  That we need to stop walking around, get to our seats, and whip the place into a frenzy.           

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Absurdity of Comparing the 1977 Mets to the 2012 Mets

This past Thursday, a man with a clear agenda penned an article likening the 2012 Mets to the 1977 Mets.  Not just regarding the on-field product (which is ridiculous enough by itself), but regarding all aspects surrounding the team: attendance, outside perception, minor league talent, near-term chances, and more.  Allow me to dissect and rebut Howard Megdal's article piece by piece, before tying it all up very nicely:
 Back then, as now, a group of popular players had just left: Tom Seaver, Tug McGraw; Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran.
 "Group" is defined as two or more, so Megdal is using the bare minimum number of players in order to refer to his aforementioned example as a group.  His first mistake is comparing Tug McGraw to Carlos Beltran.  Tug McGraw was one of the most beloved players in the history of the organization.  Carlos Beltran, as I've pointed out myself, should have been beloved, but wasn't.  He was loved by some fans, while most others' opinion of him fell somewhere between hate and indifference.  Carlos Beltran was traded because he was a pending free agent with a history of knee problems, who the Mets were not going to re-sign.  The move was accepted by most Mets fans, and netted the team Zack Wheeler - who is now viewed by most as one of the top two pitching prospects in all of baseball.  Megdal compared losing Seaver to losing Reyes.  There are two problems here.  The first is the fact that Seaver was the face of the franchise who led the Mets to a World Championship, a man who cried when he was traded.  Reyes, as dynamic as he was, should never be compared to Seaver.  Second, despite what many like to spew as fact, the Mets made an effort to retain Jose Reyes.  Sandy Alderson advised Reyes' agents that the Mets would be willing to guarantee a contract at 5 years totaling $80 million, with an easily attainable option that would've brought the total of the deal to 6 years totaling $100 million had Reyes stayed relatively healthy.  Reyes' agents told Alderson there was no way they would go for that, which is why no formal offer was made.  Reyes told the Marlins he'd leave if they offered him one more dollar than the Mets.  He left for Miami, didn't cry, and has since bitched and moaned that the Mets made no effort to keep him.
 The fans were frustrated, then and now, at an ownership group that wouldn't or couldn't spend enough money to keep the team from deteriorating. 
 Megdal is correct in his assertion that the fans are frustrated.  However, that doesn't make this 1977.  Had the Mets traded David Wright last month, before letting R.A. Dickey walk away at the end of the season instead of picking up his option, he'd have a point.  The first part didn't happen and the second part won't happen, so he has no point.  Ownership was unable to spend large dollars during the off-season because of pending litigation that has since come to a close.  The Mets are 55-60, in third place in the NL East.  Even with their recent tailspin, they've exceeded most expectations in what was seen as a year to evaluate the roster.  The team is still in a precarious spot, but nowhere near as precarious a spot as it was in prior to the Bernard Madoff situation being cleared up.  If the team lowers the payroll further, Megdal may have been proven partially right.  However, no one expects the payroll to drop again in 2013. Moreover, the team certainly isn't "deteriorating." Treading water is a more accurate description.  If they were deteriorating, as Megdal claims, they wouldn't be focusing most of their energy on signing David Wright to a contract extension during the off-season.  They'd be sizing up logical trade partners for July of 2013. 
 The 2012 Mets are playing at a 77-win pace, whereas their 1977 counterparts finished 64-98.
 34 games under .500 and eight games under .500?  Those are equivalent records, apparently.  Thanks for shedding light on that, Howard.
 But their rosters aren't dissimilar, statistically: Both teams had five everyday players worth at least one win above replacement player. The 1977 fivesome was Lenny Randle (4.0), John Stearns (3.2), Steve Henderson (2.5), John Milner (1.6) and Lee Mazzilli (1.0). The 2012 fivesome is David Wright (5.6), Daniel Murphy (1.8), Ruben Tejada (1.8), Scott Hairston (1.5) and Josh Thole (1.1).
Before going into a hysterical player by player comparison, realize this: In 1977, three Mets combined to lead the team in homers with 12 apiece.  The 2012 Mets have three players who have already comfortably exceeded that number with 47 games remaining.  In 1977, Steve Henderson led the team with 65 RBI's.  David Wright has already driven in 74 this season.  Now, my favorite individual comparison is Lenny Randle vs. David Wright (one which Megdal has claimed to not be outrageous).  Lenny Randle was a .257 lifetime hitter who finished his career with 27 home runs.  David Wright is a .302 lifetime hitter, who has hit 27 home runs or more four times in a single season.  Throw WAR at me, and throw comparative ages at me all you want.  You know what trumps both of those?  Traditional statistics and common sense.  The 2012 Mets aren't making the Playoffs (barring something incredible happening).  They do, however, have a solid core of players to build around in David Wright, Ruben Tejada, Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis, Dillon Gee, R.A. Dickey, Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey, Josh Edgin, and others.  The 1977 Mets had a core with far less promise than those mentioned above.
...young, talented Pat Zachry and Craig Swan (0.7 and 0.5, respectively), stood ready to play the parts of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler.  If that appears to sell Harvey and Wheeler short, consider that Zachry had been a huge prospect and was the center of the Seaver trade, while Swan went on to win an E.R.A. title. The median outcome for the two prospects can't be much different than what the Mets ultimately got from Zachry and Swan.
Above, we see Howard Megdal, who is not a professional scout or a time traveler, declaring that the "median outcome" of Matt Harvey (4 Major League starts) and Zack Wheeler (zero Major League starts) "can't be much different" than the eventual careers of Zachry and Swan.  He did go on to say in his next paragraph that Harvey and Wheeler could turn into Seaver and Koosman, but that was simply glossed over as being unlikely due to the fact that it doesn't fit his narrative.  Pat Zachry averaged a shade over five strikeouts per 9 innings during the course of his career.  Craig Swan averaged 4.9 K's per 9 innings during his career.  Now, both Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler could flame out immediately.  Both could become Hall of Famers.  There's really no reason to speculate on that, and there's no facts to predict what their professional careers will look like.  What is a fact is that Wheeler and Harvey both have much better pure stuff than Pat Zachry or Craig Swan ever had.  Mentioning that didn't fit Megdal's narrative, though.
But it is unclear that anything other than hope for the future separates the 2012 team from the 1977 team, which, for those who may not remember, went on to become a 66-96 1978 team and a 63-99 1979 team, before the Mets were sold to a new owner.
Yes, Howard, I know: you want the Wilpon's to sell the team.  I don't understand, though, how you can write with a straight face that "anything other than hope for the future" separates the 1977 Mets from the 2012 Mets.  Here's a few things that separate them:
  • The 1977 Mets drew 1.06 million fans, averaging 13,504 per game.  The 2012 Mets have already drawn 1.65 million fans (on pace for around 2.4 million for the season), while averaging 29,569 per game.
  •  The 1977 Mets traded the most popular player in franchise history during the season, while the 2012 Mets did the opposite in attempting to lock up David Wright long-term, only to be told that negotiations would have to wait until after the season.
  • The 1977 Mets played in Shea Stadium and were seen locally on WOR.  The 2012 Mets play at Citi Field, and can be seen locally on SNY, the television network they own.
  • The season after 1977 saw the Mets win 66 games.  Barring something unforeseen, the season after 2012 will see them win far more games than that, while the team hosts the All-Star game.  In addition, if the baseball writers do their job, it will also see Mike Piazza inducted into the Hall of Fame as the first position player to have a Mets cap on his plaque.  
The 1977 team spawned a mess that continued to spiral downhill from 1978 to 1983 with six more losing seasons, before the Mets finally turned it around in 1984.  The 2012 Mets may yet finish at .500.  And even if they don't, I don't think it can be adequately argued that anyone expects 2013-2018 to look anything like 1978 through 1983 did. 

Do the Mets have issues? Yes.  Do most fans wish the Wilpon's would sell? Probably.  However, comparing 1977 to 2012 is pure insanity, and does nothing but add more negative vibes to the ones that were thrown towards this team prior to the season, and the ones that have been hurled at them since their recent slide.  The Mets need a Catcher and three Outfielders for next year.  Talk about that.  They need Sandy Alderson and Co. to be more creative.  Talk about that.  The front office and fans need to get some clarity from Ownership regarding what the payroll will be going forward.  Talk about that.  Or you can choose to be positive and talk about R.A. Dickey potentially winning the Cy Young award, or David Wright's great year, Ruben Tejada's emergence as one of the better shortstops in the league, Terry Collins' leadership, or the rise of Matt Harvey.  But, please, don't use your own agenda to attempt to create a reality that is anything but.  It wastes our time and insults our intelligence.